Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European Parliament President Martin Schulz are due on Thursday to visit Lesvos, which has received more than half of some 600,000 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Greece this year.
The two men’s trip to Lesvos comes as a three-day period of mourning on the island for the refugees that have drowned in the Aegean comes to an end. Another five deaths, including two children, were reported on Wednesday.
“The criminal activity of the traffickers has to be stopped,” Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos told Kathimerini on Wednesday. “They are sending refugees across in floating coffins.”
Local Christian Orthdox priests as well as Muslim imams took part in a multifaith praying session on the island on Wednesday in remembrance of the dozens who have lost their lives this year in the Aegean.
“We wanted to send a message to the world that they need to take action to stop this crime,” said Galinos of the smugglers operating on the Turkish coast.
Galinos said that a backlog of around 15,000 refugees and migrants has built up on the island as a result of the strike this week by seamen. This came as the first group of refugees to be transferred out of Greece as part of the European Union reallocation scheme left Athens for Luxembourg on Wednesday.
There were just 30 refugees in the group, representing a tiny fraction of the 160,000 people in total the EU has pledged to relocate.
“The relocation of Iraqi and Syrian refugees that we saw today is an encouraging signal we are moving in the right direction,” European Parliament head Martin Schulz said during a visit to Athens.
“It is not sufficient that [only] eight states of the EU are participating in the relocation. This is a common challenge,” he added.
During a joint press conference with Schulz, Tsipras said that Greece would create, either by the end of the year or by January at the latest, space for 20,000 refugees to be temporarily hosted in Greece while they wait to be relocated.
Tsipras also called on the EU to provide greater assistance to Athens in dealing with the influx. “We have only received 5.9 million euros in European funds since the crisis began,” he said.
“Imagine how much we spend on a daily basis to keep the coast guard, army, police and municipal staff on 24-hour alert, to transport, provide first aid and feed these people,” added Tsipras.
“But we cannot put a price… on humanity, on a warm embrace for children drowning in the sea.”